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Alexander Graham Bell

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The importance of Alexander Graham Bell on today's society is visible, or rather audible, every day and everywhere. First and foremost, Alexander Graham Bell was a prolific teacher of the deaf. This is what he considered to be his true life's work, but only one of the many important things he did. Through his research of speech and sound, and his creative mind, he would become one of the most influential inventors in modern history. His own definition of an inventor, "A man who looks upon the world and is not contented with things as they are. He wants to improve whatever he sees, he wants to benefit the world." suits him well. Every thing that he did had an impact on someone.

Alexander Graham Bell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, to a family of speech educators. His father, Melville Bell, had invented Visible Speech, a code of symbols for all spoken sounds that was used in teaching deaf people to speak (Clarke 15). His mother was deaf, this lead Melville and Alexander to exploration in the subject. Alexander Bell studied at Edinburgh University in 1864 and assisted his father at University College, London, from 1868-70. During these years he became deeply interested in the study of sound and the mechanics of speech, inspired in part by the acoustic experiments of German physicist Hermann Von Helmholtz, which gave Bell the idea of telegraphing speech (Paschoff 18).

When young Bell's two brothers died of tuberculosis, Melville Bell took his remaining family to the healthier climate of Canada in 1870. From there, Aleck Bell journeyed to Boston, Massachusetts, in 1871 and joined the staff of the Boston School for the Deaf. The following year, Bell opened his own school in Boston for training teachers of the deaf. In 1873 he became a professor of vocal physiology at Boston University, and he also tutored private pupils as a side job (Clarke 15, 16).

Bell's interest in speech and communication led him to investigate the transmission of sound over wires. In particular, he experimented with development of the harmonic telegraph a device that could send multiple messages at the same time over a single wire. Bell also worked with the possibility of transmitting the human voice, experimenting with vibrating membranes and an actual human ear. Bell even manipulated his dogs vocal cords so that when the dog barked it made sounds that were kind of like words more than barks. Gardiner Hubbard and Thomas Sanders, fathers of two of his deaf pupils backed Bell financially in his investigations (Allen 68).

Early in 1874 Bell met Thomas A. Watson, a young machinist at a Boston electrical shop. Watson became Bell's indispensable assistant, bringing to Bell's experiments the crucial ingredient that had been lacking, his technical expertise in electrical engineering. Together the two men spent endless hours experimenting (Paschoff 43,44). Although Bell formed the basic concept of the telephone using a varying but unbroken electric current to transmit the varying sound waves of human speech, in the summer of 1874, Hubbard insisted that the young inventor focus his efforts on the harmonic telegraph instead. Bell wanted to continue his work on the telephone but he complied. When he patented one of his telegraph designs in February 1875, he found that Elisha Gray had patented a multiple telegraph two days earlier. Greatly discouraged, Bell consulted in Washington with the elderly Joseph Henry, who urged Bell to pursue his "germ of a great invention" speech transmission (Grosvenor and Wesson 55).

Back in Boston, Bell and Watson continued to work on the harmonic telegraph, but still with the telephone in mind. By accident on a June day in 1875, an intermittent transmitter produced a steady current and transmitted sound, when Watson tightened or loosened a particular screw it produced a sound that would vary in pitch. Bell had proof of his 1874 idea; he quickly sketched a design for an electric telephone, and Watson built it. The partners experimented all summer, but failed actually to transmit voice sounds. That fall, Bell began to write the patent specifications, but delayed application; Hubbard finally filed for the patent on February 14, 1876, just hours before Gray appeared at the same patent office to file an intent to patent his telephone design. Bell's patent was granted on March 7, 1876, and on March 10, the first message transmitted by telephone passed from Bell to Watson in their workshop: "Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you!"(Macleod 12).

After a year of refining the new device, Watson and Bell, along with Hubbard and Sanders, formed the Bell Telephone Company in 1877. Bell immediately married Mabel Hubbard, daughter of his new partner, and sailed to England to promote his telephone (Paschoff 46-59).

The phone company grew fast and Bell became a wealthy man. He turned to other interests on his return to the United States in 1879. He also had to defend his patents against numerous lawsuits. The French government awarded Bell with the Volta prize, an award rarely given out. It was set up by the first Napolean and named after famous Italian scientist Alessandro Volta, in 1880. With the money Bell received from the prize he created the Volta Laboratory. Bell invented many new things at the Volta Laboratory, among them were the graphaphone for recording sound, the photophone, for transmitting speech on a beam of light, an audiometer, a telephone probe, and an induction balance for detecting metal in the human body (Bruce 340-347). Bell founded many organizations to support teaching of the deaf. He helped to establish Science magazine and the National Geographic Society. He also worked on air conditioning, an improved strain of sheep, an early iron lung, solar distillation of water, and sonar detection of icebergs. The possibility of flight fascinated Bell. He built tetrahedral kites capable of carrying a human being. In his later years of life, Bell concentrated more on flight. He spent years experimenting with kites and different types of flying apparatus. He supported Samuel Langley's pioneering

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